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Neither a buyer nor seller be

When HT reports about real estate, it sometimes implicitly writes from the builders’ viewpoint, said one reader. The reader did not provide a concrete example, but I can guess what he is referring to. Newspaper reports sometimes do present rising real estate prices as a positive phenomenon.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2009 02:11 IST
Sumana Ramanan

Sumana Ramanan,
Senior Editor

When HT reports about real estate, it sometimes implicitly writes from the builders’ viewpoint, said one reader.

The reader did not provide a concrete example, but I can guess what he is referring to. Newspaper reports sometimes do present rising real estate prices as a positive phenomenon.

One can do it with the addition of just one word. “Real estate prices finally rise…” is clearly a statement that implies that the increase is desirable. One can also introduce bias by quoting only builders, who might say that things are “looking up.”

The same is true of the stock market. Rising share prices are almost always reported as a positive development.

Reporting about prices and their movements is tricky, because they are linked to how the economy as a whole is faring. In a growing economy, prices might indeed rise, and it is not unreasonable for reporters to seem in favour of a growing economy.

At the same time, it is very difficult for reporters to estimate whether real estate or share price rises are justified in a specific economic environment. How much of the price rise is a result of speculation? How much is it a result of manipulation? Economists and other experts find answering these questions difficult, so reporters should not even begin trying.

Yet a basic awareness that there are two sides, buyers and sellers, might be a start. It might also help if reporters get economists to say whether the price rises reflect the fundamentals.

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“There seemed to be total public apathy towards the teachers’ strike, one reflected in the media as well,” wrote one reader. “A little boy gets trapped in a tube well and it makes front-page news. A Bollywood celebrity’s birthday becomes ‘breaking news.’ Here we had more than 30,000 teachers stopping work, there were genuine grievances, and nary a whisper by these same channels and dailies.”

I can say with some conviction that HT consciously gave a lot of space to the strike because I wear another hat within the newspaper, as head of a reporting team that covers education. I was clear that we had to cover the strike well because the teachers’ had a valid grievance and there was drama.

The strike is now over, but the reader is alluding to a larger point about the relative prominence that various groups of professionals get in the media. Why do the media give more space to those in entertainment, politics and business than to so-called “ordinary” people, such as teachers, doctors, scientists and the like?

Newspapers might cover events that involve “ordinary” people, but do not quite give them a starring role in those reports, if you know what I mean.

One problem is that many readers themselves say they prefer news about film stars and sports people. But I believe that there is a lot of drama in the life of “ordinary” people, and journalists in the city ought to be writing much more about them than they do.

I suspect (or is it hope?) that well-written pieces that capture this drama will also capture the reader’s imagination. After all, a lot of great literature does not have film stars and successful sports personalities as the central characters.

Should I even have mentioned literature and newspaper reporting in the same breath? Perhaps not (this is not the place to delve into the debate about whether or not non-fiction can also be literature).

But I ask readers, do you want to read about “ordinary” people and their little dramas? Will you be willing to support newspapers that give more space to this?